Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

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Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 23, 2017 11:31 am

Hi folks, I'm a junior big law associate. Great firm, strong financials, and I get along with the people I work with.

I'm thinking about taking an uncompensated "Special AUSA" position and doing it for a year -- with the goal to just get more substantive lit experience and to have a cool resume by-line. Afterwards, I would go back to a firm (likely back to my current firm or peer).

Am I being stupid? note: I dont need the big law money. I have no debt and my fiance has enough income for us to live on + keep making mortgage payments. Also, I have rich parents. I'd prefer not to ask them for money, but I mention it because it means I won't starve since I'm lucky enough to have a financial back stop.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby nealric » Thu Feb 23, 2017 12:41 pm

Seems silly to me. Go do a clerkship if you want substantive experience- most biglaw firms and willing and able to set one up for you. If you really want be an AUSA, you can probably get a paid gig with biglaw credentials if you are willing to be patient and do your networking.

Also worth noting is that the unpaid temp guy is probably not going to get great work. Not really that glamorous to defend slip and falls in the post office or prosecute DUIs in a national park.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby kellyfrost » Thu Feb 23, 2017 12:44 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Hi folks, I'm a junior big law associate. Great firm, strong financials, and I get along with the people I work with.

I'm thinking about taking an uncompensated "Special AUSA" position and doing it for a year -- with the goal to just get more substantive lit experience and to have a cool resume by-line. Afterwards, I would go back to a firm (likely back to my current firm or peer).

Am I being stupid? note: I dont need the big law money. I have no debt and my fiance has enough income for us to live on + keep making mortgage payments. Also, I have rich parents. I'd prefer not to ask them for money, but I mention it because it means I won't starve since I'm lucky enough to have a financial back stop.


If you don't mind me asking, how rich are you parents? Are we talking like they make $465,000+ plus annually, or do they have a net worth of over $100 million? Or somewhere in between?
Last edited by kellyfrost on Sat Jan 27, 2018 2:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby zot1 » Thu Feb 23, 2017 12:49 pm

If you have the financial backing, that would be a good opportunity. However, as others have pointed out, I would look for paid opportunities first anyway because you might get them.

I knew an attorney who sort of got tired of being an associate and decided to spend 6 months at the DAs office for free. In that time she got a ton of trial experience. I'm not sure what she did afterwards because I didn't keep in touch, but while at the DAs office, she seemed to be happy with her decision. I believe, similar to you, her husband was able to cover costs while she volunteered and maybe they had savings too.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby elendinel » Thu Feb 23, 2017 1:14 pm

I don't think it's crazy, assuming your finances are in order/your fiance is on board with it/you're sure you're picking an office that will give you substantive experience in what you want. I'd be more concerned about what happens after. So my only concern would be whether you have a deal with your current firm to come back, or with another firm to start there after you spend ____ months with AUSA, and trying to get that set up.

If you have a mentor at your current firm/know someone at your office who did this, maybe talk to them and see if there's any way to do a volunteer atty position as pro bono while you're working at the firm (if not AUSA, then somewhere else)/if you can get a LoA for the specified time period, so that you still have a job when you finish, etc. I don't think it's crazy to quit a job for volunteer experience in the abstract, but I do think it'd be a little crazy to quit a paying job to do an unpaid volunteer position, without having a guaranteed offer to do something paid afterwards, personally.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 23, 2017 1:26 pm

OP here, thanks for the responses.

nealric wrote:Seems silly to me. Go do a clerkship if you want substantive experience- most biglaw firms and willing and able to set one up for you. If you really want be an AUSA, you can probably get a paid gig with biglaw credentials if you are willing to be patient and do your networking.

Also worth noting is that the unpaid temp guy is probably not going to get great work. Not really that glamorous to defend slip and falls in the post office or prosecute DUIs in a national park.


This is a good point. It didn't occur to me that SAUSAs would probably be getting lower quality work -- makes total sense and not something I considered. I'll def have to investigate further into what type of work I can expect.

kellyfrost wrote:
If you don't mind me asking, how rich are you parents? Are we talking like they make $465,000+ plus annually, or do they have a net worth of over $100 million? Or somewhere in between?


They're middle class rich. Not like Bill Gates or hedge fund owners or anything. Think double medical doctors/surgeons that have been responsible with their money.

zot1 wrote:If you have the financial backing, that would be a good opportunity. However, as others have pointed out, I would look for paid opportunities first anyway because you might get them.

I knew an attorney who sort of got tired of being an associate and decided to spend 6 months at the DAs office for free. In that time she got a ton of trial experience. I'm not sure what she did afterwards because I didn't keep in touch, but while at the DAs office, she seemed to be happy with her decision. I believe, similar to you, her husband was able to cover costs while she volunteered and maybe they had savings too.


Thanks. My understanding was that paid AUSAs gigs were extremely competitive which I why I started looking at SAUSAs. Any opinion on a paid DA or AG gig vs the unpaid SAUSA?

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 23, 2017 2:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP here, thanks for the responses.

nealric wrote:Seems silly to me. Go do a clerkship if you want substantive experience- most biglaw firms and willing and able to set one up for you. If you really want be an AUSA, you can probably get a paid gig with biglaw credentials if you are willing to be patient and do your networking.

Also worth noting is that the unpaid temp guy is probably not going to get great work. Not really that glamorous to defend slip and falls in the post office or prosecute DUIs in a national park.


This is a good point. It didn't occur to me that SAUSAs would probably be getting lower quality work -- makes total sense and not something I considered. I'll def have to investigate further into what type of work I can expect.

kellyfrost wrote:
If you don't mind me asking, how rich are you parents? Are we talking like they make $465,000+ plus annually, or do they have a net worth of over $100 million? Or somewhere in between?


They're middle class rich. Not like Bill Gates or hedge fund owners or anything. Think double medical doctors/surgeons that have been responsible with their money.

zot1 wrote:If you have the financial backing, that would be a good opportunity. However, as others have pointed out, I would look for paid opportunities first anyway because you might get them.

I knew an attorney who sort of got tired of being an associate and decided to spend 6 months at the DAs office for free. In that time she got a ton of trial experience. I'm not sure what she did afterwards because I didn't keep in touch, but while at the DAs office, she seemed to be happy with her decision. I believe, similar to you, her husband was able to cover costs while she volunteered and maybe they had savings too.


Thanks. My understanding was that paid AUSAs gigs were extremely competitive which I why I started looking at SAUSAs. Any opinion on a paid DA or AG gig vs the unpaid SAUSA?



Financial considerations aside, it depends on what your career goals are. Doing a SAUSA gig is a fantastic launching pad if you want to become an AUSA or want to join Main Justice. Within a year, you'll have a good grasp of what the job is like. It's also a ton of fun and you'll develop good relationships. It's also a lot easier to get hired as an AUSA if you're already "in the system." Aside from government, if you have any aspiration in doing white collar work at a firm, having this on your bio will help.

Regarding your work as a SAUSA, most of the Offices will treat SAUSAs like any other new AUSA, meaning you'll likely get your usual caseload of guns, drugs, etc. You'll get solid substantive experience handling indictments, grand jury investigations, briefs, motions, hearings, trials, and appellate work. You'll also get to go to the NAC and take some useful training courses with other AUSAs. I've known several colleagues who came from biglaw, was a SAUSA for a year, and then transitioned to a permanent AUSA position in a different office. From my understanding, these SAUSA positions are also fairly competitive to get.

Regarding your question about paid DA vs. AG gig vs. unpaid SAUSA, assuming finances are not an issue and unless you're thinking of being an ADA in Manhattan, I would recommend the SAUSA gig. At the end of the day, the work is the work. Even if it's for a year, you will have been a federal prosecutor. No one will care whether you got paid, how much you got paid, etc. (FWIW, there are a lot of paid SAUSA positions out there as well).

One thing you should consider is the "hiring freeze" in place right now...depending on how that plays out, that may affect your ability to get hired permanently after your term is up. Timing is everything.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 23, 2017 2:16 pm

SAUSA's will get the same experience as an AUSA. USAO's are very understaffed these days and with the hiring freeze, it's silly to think that you will get less interesting cases than someone, simply because you are working for free. I know a number of judges who are so busy they accept volunteer clerks for their chambers, and literally the only difference between the volunteer clerk and the paid clerk is that one is paid and one isn't. All the work is the same, and no one there would know that you aren't getting paid, except you and your boss.

Further, not only is it incredibly hard to get an AUSA gig, but in competitive districts (most cities that have biglaw offices would qualify as competitive districts), you usually need at least three years in big law plus a Art III clerkship. Add to that, that there is currently a federal hiring freeze and you find yourself very unlikely to get a AUSA gig in the district you are living right now. Based on the fact that your wife works as well, I assume you don't have the luxury of upping and moving to the middle of nowehere, America, just for an AUSA gig that might hire you.

If you can afford if financially, I think it's a great opportunity to get real trial work, and build long term value for yourself. I say run with it and enjoy every moment of it!

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby clerk1251 » Thu Feb 23, 2017 2:17 pm

Anonymous User wrote:SAUSA's will get the same experience as an AUSA. USAO's are very understaffed these days and with the hiring freeze, it's silly to think that you will get less interesting cases than someone, simply because you are working for free. I know a number of judges who are so busy they accept volunteer clerks for their chambers, and literally the only difference between the volunteer clerk and the paid clerk is that one is paid and one isn't. All the work is the same, and no one there would know that you aren't getting paid, except you and your boss.

Further, not only is it incredibly hard to get an AUSA gig, but in competitive districts (most cities that have biglaw offices would qualify as competitive districts), you usually need at least three years in big law plus a Art III clerkship. Add to that, that there is currently a federal hiring freeze and you find yourself very unlikely to get a AUSA gig in the district you are living right now. Based on the fact that your wife works as well, I assume you don't have the luxury of upping and moving to the middle of nowehere, America, just for an AUSA gig that might hire you.

If you can afford if financially, I think it's a great opportunity to get real trial work, and build long term value for yourself. I say run with it and enjoy every moment of it!


Accidental annon, and it seems like the person above me said most of this while I was typing mine, so yep, in that case I echo the previous sentiments.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby nealric » Thu Feb 23, 2017 2:40 pm

Anonymous User wrote:SAUSA's will get the same experience as an AUSA. USAO's are very understaffed these days and with the hiring freeze, it's silly to think that you will get less interesting cases than someone, simply because you are working for free. I know a number of judges who are so busy they accept volunteer clerks for their chambers, and literally the only difference between the volunteer clerk and the paid clerk is that one is paid and one isn't. All the work is the same, and no one there would know that you aren't getting paid, except you and your boss.



No way to know for sure, as it's going to be determined in part by the personalities involved but my reasoning is this: Your boss, who will be managing case load, is going to be a full-time AUSA who is going to have a strong incentive to keep their permanent staff happy, and much less incentive to develop you, who they probably can't hire permanently even if they want to. You have no political power within the organization to direct your workflow. They also can't make you the main point person on anything that could last past your term- which is going to be a lot of the more interesting work. That's different from volunteer clerks because regular clerks are usually temporary staff too.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 23, 2017 2:58 pm

As a current AUSA who's known some SAUSAs, it's not so much that you'll get less interesting work because you're a SAUSA, as much as that any new prosecutors get less complex stuff. It will depend on your litigation experience coming into the job, at least, but there are some things that are prosecution-specific you'll just have to learn before you can do much. And yes, the work is the work, but I agree that a supervisor isn't going to want to put you on cases likely to go past your end date.

Also, if you want trial experience, one year may not give you much - it will depend on the office and their volume, but I know AUSAs who've gone 2 years without a trial (not that trial is the only kind of valuable litigation experience out there, but thought it was worth mentioning).

A lot of this is going to depend on the office, its caseload, and how they distribute cases. Also, all the SAUSAs I've known have been using it to try to transition to a permanent gig, so I think someone who didn't have those goals could be at a disadvantage in hiring.

(Re paid SAUSAs - those are generally detailed from another office, either another federal agency or a state AG where there's a lot of overlap, like healthcare fraud, so they're not really an option for people trying to get into the USAO from civil/a firm.)

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 23, 2017 3:16 pm

Anonymous User wrote:As a current AUSA who's known some SAUSAs, it's not so much that you'll get less interesting work because you're a SAUSA, as much as that any new prosecutors get less complex stuff. It will depend on your litigation experience coming into the job, at least, but there are some things that are prosecution-specific you'll just have to learn before you can do much. And yes, the work is the work, but I agree that a supervisor isn't going to want to put you on cases likely to go past your end date.

Also, if you want trial experience, one year may not give you much - it will depend on the office and their volume, but I know AUSAs who've gone 2 years without a trial (not that trial is the only kind of valuable litigation experience out there, but thought it was worth mentioning).

A lot of this is going to depend on the office, its caseload, and how they distribute cases. Also, all the SAUSAs I've known have been using it to try to transition to a permanent gig, so I think someone who didn't have those goals could be at a disadvantage in hiring.

(Re paid SAUSAs - those are generally detailed from another office, either another federal agency or a state AG where there's a lot of overlap, like healthcare fraud, so they're not really an option for people trying to get into the USAO from civil/a firm.)


As a former SAUSA, I found that all of the AUSAs were incredibly supportive of my time in the office. They went out of their way to make sure I received good and interesting work. I got the impression that the people in my office were especially supportive because I was a SAUSA. Of course, this can differ from office to office, but it's consistent with stories I heard from SAUSAs in other districts. The people you work with will be your mentors for life.

I agree that you're most likely not going to be the lead prosecutor on a major investigation. So while it's true that you're probably not going to be handling Title III wiretaps during your time there, you also probably wouldn't have done that in your first year as a line AUSA anyway. Keep in mind that for smaller investigations, every AUSA, including SAUSAs, indicts their own cases. This is your case from start to finish. If your case isn't concluded by the time you leave the office, someone else will pick it up. Also, although this is really office and case specific, most of the SAUSAs I knew handled at least one trial during their time there.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 23, 2017 3:20 pm

That makes a lot of sense, and it's good to hear your office was so supportive. I think so much of this is office-specific - I know one person who got great experience as a SAUSA and one who felt kind of taken advantage of.

And yeah, re: the wiretap example - that was all I was trying to get at, the idea that all newbies are precluded from some experiences. Frankly if you want trial experience doing something like a CVB DUI is not complex/prestigious, but still a totally great learning experience.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby dixiecupdrinking » Thu Feb 23, 2017 4:43 pm

This may not enter into the equation for you, but I find it absolutely insane and immoral for the government to hire full time unpaid volunteers, let alone to have those unpaid volunteers prosecuting people.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby rpupkin » Thu Feb 23, 2017 5:21 pm

dixiecupdrinking wrote:This may not enter into the equation for you, but I find it absolutely insane and immoral for the government to hire full time unpaid volunteers, let alone to have those unpaid volunteers prosecuting people.

Agreed. I feel the same way about full-time "volunteer" clerks.

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Oct 18, 2017 11:37 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:As a current AUSA who's known some SAUSAs, it's not so much that you'll get less interesting work because you're a SAUSA, as much as that any new prosecutors get less complex stuff. It will depend on your litigation experience coming into the job, at least, but there are some things that are prosecution-specific you'll just have to learn before you can do much. And yes, the work is the work, but I agree that a supervisor isn't going to want to put you on cases likely to go past your end date.

Also, if you want trial experience, one year may not give you much - it will depend on the office and their volume, but I know AUSAs who've gone 2 years without a trial (not that trial is the only kind of valuable litigation experience out there, but thought it was worth mentioning).

A lot of this is going to depend on the office, its caseload, and how they distribute cases. Also, all the SAUSAs I've known have been using it to try to transition to a permanent gig, so I think someone who didn't have those goals could be at a disadvantage in hiring.

(Re paid SAUSAs - those are generally detailed from another office, either another federal agency or a state AG where there's a lot of overlap, like healthcare fraud, so they're not really an option for people trying to get into the USAO from civil/a firm.)


As a former SAUSA, I found that all of the AUSAs were incredibly supportive of my time in the office. They went out of their way to make sure I received good and interesting work. I got the impression that the people in my office were especially supportive because I was a SAUSA. Of course, this can differ from office to office, but it's consistent with stories I heard from SAUSAs in other districts. The people you work with will be your mentors for life.

I agree that you're most likely not going to be the lead prosecutor on a major investigation. So while it's true that you're probably not going to be handling Title III wiretaps during your time there, you also probably wouldn't have done that in your first year as a line AUSA anyway. Keep in mind that for smaller investigations, every AUSA, including SAUSAs, indicts their own cases. This is your case from start to finish. If your case isn't concluded by the time you leave the office, someone else will pick it up. Also, although this is really office and case specific, most of the SAUSAs I knew handled at least one trial during their time there.


Sorry to dig this up. But what did you do after your SAUSA stint?

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Re: Big law associate thinking about Uncompensated AUSA,

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Oct 18, 2017 1:44 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:OP here, thanks for the responses.

nealric wrote:Seems silly to me. Go do a clerkship if you want substantive experience- most biglaw firms and willing and able to set one up for you. If you really want be an AUSA, you can probably get a paid gig with biglaw credentials if you are willing to be patient and do your networking.

Also worth noting is that the unpaid temp guy is probably not going to get great work. Not really that glamorous to defend slip and falls in the post office or prosecute DUIs in a national park.


This is a good point. It didn't occur to me that SAUSAs would probably be getting lower quality work -- makes total sense and not something I considered. I'll def have to investigate further into what type of work I can expect.

kellyfrost wrote:
If you don't mind me asking, how rich are you parents? Are we talking like they make $465,000+ plus annually, or do they have a net worth of over $100 million? Or somewhere in between?


They're middle class rich. Not like Bill Gates or hedge fund owners or anything. Think double medical doctors/surgeons that have been responsible with their money.

zot1 wrote:If you have the financial backing, that would be a good opportunity. However, as others have pointed out, I would look for paid opportunities first anyway because you might get them.

I knew an attorney who sort of got tired of being an associate and decided to spend 6 months at the DAs office for free. In that time she got a ton of trial experience. I'm not sure what she did afterwards because I didn't keep in touch, but while at the DAs office, she seemed to be happy with her decision. I believe, similar to you, her husband was able to cover costs while she volunteered and maybe they had savings too.


Thanks. My understanding was that paid AUSAs gigs were extremely competitive which I why I started looking at SAUSAs. Any opinion on a paid DA or AG gig vs the unpaid SAUSA?



Financial considerations aside, it depends on what your career goals are. Doing a SAUSA gig is a fantastic launching pad if you want to become an AUSA or want to join Main Justice. Within a year, you'll have a good grasp of what the job is like. It's also a ton of fun and you'll develop good relationships. It's also a lot easier to get hired as an AUSA if you're already "in the system." Aside from government, if you have any aspiration in doing white collar work at a firm, having this on your bio will help.

Regarding your work as a SAUSA, most of the Offices will treat SAUSAs like any other new AUSA, meaning you'll likely get your usual caseload of guns, drugs, etc. You'll get solid substantive experience handling indictments, grand jury investigations, briefs, motions, hearings, trials, and appellate work. You'll also get to go to the NAC and take some useful training courses with other AUSAs. I've known several colleagues who came from biglaw, was a SAUSA for a year, and then transitioned to a permanent AUSA position in a different office. From my understanding, these SAUSA positions are also fairly competitive to get.

Regarding your question about paid DA vs. AG gig vs. unpaid SAUSA, assuming finances are not an issue and unless you're thinking of being an ADA in Manhattan, I would recommend the SAUSA gig. At the end of the day, the work is the work. Even if it's for a year, you will have been a federal prosecutor. No one will care whether you got paid, how much you got paid, etc. (FWIW, there are a lot of paid SAUSA positions out there as well).

One thing you should consider is the "hiring freeze" in place right now...depending on how that plays out, that may affect your ability to get hired permanently after your term is up. Timing is everything.


I do think I'd like to be an AUSA down the line but I wouldn't be doing the SAUSA position in hopes of getting that. If it happens, great. If not, no big deal. White collar is definitely where my head is at. I'm in the WC group at my firm and I think I'll continue going down this path.

I'd also be okay with doing this for 2 years to (1) make the timing work better for getting hired afterward, and (2) get better experience (trials). Money is not a concern.

Also, I can't get my current firm to guarantee me a job. It's not that they wouldn't, but the SAUSA office won't allow it.



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